These are Christmas related pictures I took in Israel. The top two pictures are where the manger was that Jesus laid in.The sheep pictures are of the way sheep and shepherds would have been in the fields when they saw the start and the angels. The next picture is the interior of the “Church of the Nativity”. Followed are paintings in the Church of the Nativity. Another shepherd picture. The final picture is the field where the shepherds saw the star and the angels.
Certainly attendance declines are related to cultural shifts. But I would also suggest that one reason for declines has a greater impact than others.
With the release of Pope Francis‘ letter in support of the victims of sexual abuse and increasing acknowledgment by thoughtful Roman Catholics of the Crisis of Infidelitythat recent revelations have created, is it a bad time to ask why Roman Catholics who are disillusioned with their priests and bishops don’t consider joining a Protestant church? I understand that Orthodox Presbyterianism, my own communion, has lots of foibles that put seekers off — starting with Calvinism. But why not Lutheranism? These Protestants did not go as far in their rejection of Rome as Presbyterians, have congregations with solid liturgy, worship sacramentally, and follow the church calendar (for starters). So why can’t a Roman Catholic find teaching, worship of Jesus, and the good news of salvation among Lutherans? Is Protestantism really that yucky?
I sort of understand for cradle Roman Catholics. This is the communion in which they have been reared. They have lots of associations — family, holiday, favorite priest or nun, maybe even a parochial school — with the church. Of course, if that were a legitimate way to think about Christianity then Christians would still be Jews since the very first Christians, even our Lord, had to leave family and religious traditions to recognize the new order that Christ’s death and resurrection introduced to biblical religion. After all, Jesus did say:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)
The question of Roman Catholic converts to Protestantism becomes a lot more incomprehensible for two reasons. The first is that the Second Vatican Council approved of Protestantism, even though a lesser form of Christianity, as a legitimate variety of the same religion:
Though the ecclesial Communities which are separated from us lack the fullness of unity with us flowing from Baptism, and though we believe they have not retained the proper reality of the eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Orders, nevertheless when they commemorate His death and resurrection in the Lord’s Supper, they profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and look forward to His coming in glory. Therefore the teaching concerning the Lord’s Supper, the other sacraments, worship, the ministry of the Church, must be the subject of the dialogue.
That paragraph from Unitatis Redintegratio is YUGE since it apparently overcomes some of the worries a Roman Catholic might have about Protestant sacraments. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper from a Protestant aren’t up to the level of Roman Catholicism’s ministry, but Protestant ministers have enough truth and grace so that, as the bishops at the council determined, Protestant believers were no longer thought to be in danger of eternal punishment. In fact, I’ve had many Roman Catholics tell me that I am not going to hell simply because I am not in fellowship with the Bishop of Rome.
In fact, Vatican II went on to notice positive aspects of Protestant piety:
The daily Christian life of these brethren is nourished by their faith in Christ and strengthened by the grace of Baptism and by hearing the word of God. This shows itself in their private prayer, their meditation on the Bible, in their Christian family life, and in the worship of a community gathered together to praise God. Moreover, their form of worship sometimes displays notable features of the liturgy which they shared with us of old.
Their faith in Christ bears fruit in praise and thanksgiving for the blessings received from the hands of God. Among them, too, is a strong sense of justice and a true charity toward their neighbor. This active faith has been responsible for many organizations for the relief of spiritual and material distress, the furtherance of the education of youth, the improvement of the social conditions of life, and the promotion of peace throughout the world.
Coming over to Protestantism may be like going from a Cadillac to a Nissan, but it will — if I read the Second Vatican Council aright — get me there. (Let’s not talk too much about where.)
The other reason why traffic from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism by ex-Protestants is a mystery concerns the conversion stories of so many of those former protesters. Invariably, what drove the decision to join with Rome was not a crisis of guilt, sin, and judgment. It was not as if I don’t become a Roman Catholic, the eternal destiny of my soul is in jeopardy. Instead, the question was one that had to do with a fuller and richer understanding of Christianity than the one he or she had as a Protestant (again, an upgrade metaphor like going from Windows 7 to Windows 10). Here’s one example:
I realized that many of the positive impulses that I had discovered in Reformed theology were found in exceeding measure in the Catholic Church. Contrary to the claim that the Catholic Church (or Eastern Orthodoxy) represents something of an extreme to which people merely seeking unwarranted certainty go to (painting the Reformed church as something of a via media— a claim made by Anglicans and Methodists as well), I found that the Catholic Church tended to provide a much more balanced and consistent approach to Scripture as well as Tradition. Moreover, the problem of individualism pervasive in evangelical theology, or the vague community-centered ecclesiology of more emergent churches, there seemed to be the proper balance, not in Reformed theology which only seemed to combine the two resulting in a conglomeration of people who each considered themselves to be experts in theology in contrast to ‘broad evangelicals,’ but in the Catholic Church: plurality in unity. Far from the One sublimating the many, I found that the confession of One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church entailed a true sense of unity as well as a true sense of distinction between each member of the Church.
Here is another:
Page after page revealed a common faith during that early period in which bishops succeeded Apostles, baptismal waters regenerated, bread and wine transformed, penance was necessary and salutary, purgatorial fire cleansed, the Blessed Virgin was an active Mother to the faithful, departed saints prayed, Peter held the Keys, and the Eucharist was a sacrifice for the living and the dead. There appeared in their minds no awareness of or concern for the cardinal doctrines of the Reformation so painstakingly spelled out as essential to the gospel. Actually…the Fathers sounded Catholic.
This was unexpectedly unsettling for me because no external argument(s) in favor of a Catholic reading of the Fathers had been made in conjunction with my reading of them. The writings themselves served to give voice to the arguments. The words on the page became the witness or opponent (depending on one’s perspective). I began to ponder whether a person would naturally pick up the trail of the Catholic Church if one started with the writings of the early Church? The answer increasingly seemed to be yes.
However you interpret the philosophical nature of these conversion stories or the role that an awareness of the ancient church played in the evolution of faith, these narratives do not indicate that the convert thought himself, in the words of Amazing Grace, “lost, but now I’m found.” In other words, these converts thought they were saved before they joined the Roman Catholic Church. Once they changed ecclesial affiliations, they experienced what was for them a fuller faith. But it wasn’t as if they went from pagan, or unbeliever, or agnostic to being a “real” Christian.
Which means that Protestant converts to Rome can well imagine what it is like to be a Christian outside the Roman Catholic Church. In most conversion accounts, the converts thought of their pre-Roman experience as part of being saved.
In which case, when trials over wayward priests and unfaithful bishops hound lay Roman Catholics, what would be so bad about coming over and joining their separated brothers and sisters?
We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who have been purified and refined and retuned in Jesus said, AMEN!
OK, we get it! All of these books, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, others we haven’t read, they are all saying “The Lord is coming…” Thomas McComiskey writes: “Whereas the Lord formerly marched forth against Israel’s enemies, now he comes forth against his own people (Jer 25:30-31)” Are we Jesus’ people when by our behavior, by our life, acts and attitude we reject Him? God is all or nothing for us, either fer or agin. There’s no in between, people today genuinely seem to believe and it shows in their actions, that God is irrelevant. That is what we are talking about in this period between 400 to 600 years before Jesus. Thinking God’s irrelevant, when He’s sending all these men to you and telling you, us, you need to get a grip, you’re setting up for a huge fall. God will disavow people after awhile, and leave them on their own. We see that all around the world, many can say it’s a coincidence, or due to other less, let’s say honorable acts, but I think it is because God has blessed us as a faithful Christian people. Any objective study of American history shows that we have been extraordinarily blessed. OK, your history classes may have been about “robber barons”, but the vast majority of Americans through history have honored God, treated people respectfully, helped when they could. It’s the current culture that has drifted off into its own world of privilege, elitism, that everything we have is because we deserve it. That’s just not true, and as much as Yahweh is telling the people of Israel to get a grip and focus on Him, He is very much telling us that today. The people in Israel have the same attitude, and Malachi is calling them out, at the direction of Yahweh. The Hebrew is Ma La Ki, literally means “my messenger”. Yahweh is quoted at the beginning of our reading; “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” (Mal 3:1) Sounds like a reference to John the Baptist. Yahweh is referring to “His Messenger”! God can certainly have many messengers, He has, especially in this time that is leading up to when Jesus, God the Son, appears in the incarnation. The reference “…he will prepare the way before me…” sounds like what Luke is saying about Anna and Zechariah’s son, John the Baptist, the Baptizer. Malachi is said to be the last of the Old Testament prophets. He was speaking/ writing to the community of Jews that had returned to Israel after they were released by the Persians. They restored, as well as they could, Jerusalem, and for a time, they were happy to be “home”, although most had never even seen Jerusalem before their return. But as usually happens, the new toy, the new house, the new lifestyle starts to lose its glitter and eh, into a new funk to grouse and whine about. They felt that even though Yahweh delivers them, again, now He’s taken a powder, disappeared, when He should be showering them with uncountable blessings in their Nirvana away from the Persians and in the place they’ve been told about since they were born. It is the Promised Land, again, albeit from a different direction, but, again, “we want more”, let’s find other “gods” who can give us what we deserve.
Malachi is the last time God will speak to the world for 400 years. Yahweh has repeated over and over through many men; Isaiah, Jeremiah, Malachi, Zechariah, Joel, and more, what more can He do? This is for us too, even 2,500 years later. Maybe we’re being told for the last time. Maybe Jesus won’t be returning for another 400 years, maybe we’re at the end of 400 years. It’s not for us to know, Jesus tells us in Matthew 24: 46 Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 47 Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But if that evil slave says in his heart, ‘My master is not coming for a long time,’ 49 and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; 50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, 51 and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Too many of us want to play games, cut it close and not take Jesus’ return seriously. It will happen and for those who thought they could get away with something, it’s not going to go well.
Malachi 1:6 to 2:9, he focuses on the clergy of the time. There have been many times throughout Scripture and through the history of Christianity where priests, ministers, pastors have copped out, just sold out to the culture, make it easier for themselves and the people they’re called to minister to. That clergy and lay people offer up to God, that which actually dishonors God. For us what we offer to God is our lives, we either praise Him in our life and are faithful in our worship, or we pretty much fake it, give God the leftovers, whatever we decide we can get away with turning over to Him. We don’t honor God in this culture very much at all. When faithful clergy call people to stand up and truly honor God, they get treated pretty much like the prophets or just patronized and pooh-poohed. We honor God in what we do to witness to Him, to give support to His ministries and support those who are to serve Him and you. Those priests/clergy who don’t stand strong for God will be held especially responsible for what they fail to do to serve Him, or dishonor Him by worrying about the culture and not God’s House and people.
Malachi writes that “…he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord.” Those offerings that have been purified are us, our entire being righteous in Jesus, totally His. We are purified in the baptism of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and therefore we are purified. When silver and gold are refined all of the substances on it are removed, all that remains is pure silver, or pure gold, what is entirely precious, uncontaminated with any ordinary material. We who are more precious than gold in God’s sight we are that purified, refined offering entirely in Jesus, entirely what God has done in and through us. Even as Malachi is telling us: “ESV 3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD.” We are purified and we have returned to God through our baptism. Our baptism that purifies and refines, removes all of the contamination, all the pollution that has accumulated on us, the crud, debris and adulteration of the world. We have returned to Him, cleansed and purified, and He has returned to us, to redeem and save us in all righteousness in the eternal resurrection.
Advent is the anticipation of Jesus’ return, we are saved in Christ and while we are polluted by the world, we are those offerings, truly worthy of God only by what Jesus has done for us, through His sacrifice, His suffering, He who is the only one who could pay the price, do the purifying and refining that we need to stand righteous and perfect offerings for God the Father.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom Christ will come again.
 Thomas McComiskey The Minor Prophets p 705
 Edited by Alberto Ferreiro Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture OT volume XIV p 283
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We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know that Jesus runs to us to save us despite ourselves said … AMEN!
Jeremiah “The Weeping prophet”, had a lot to weep over. In 32: 28-30 Yahweh is laying it right on the line with Jeremiah, it’s almost a summary of how much Israel has done to anger God for about 400 years, pretty much since the time of Saul /David /Solomon, Israel/Judah has continually ignored Yahweh and played around with their own beliefs.
Jeremiah has been on the short end of a beat down since he started 33 chapters ago, about 40 years, he’s been prophesying against all the evil of Israel and Judah. Luther writes ..he had to say hard things to obstinately wicked people. Still it did little good. He had to look on while the people went from bad to worse, always wanting to kill him, and putting him to much hardship… After Jerusalem was destroyed, Jeremiah laments over Jerusalem, how foolish his people were to deny Yahweh for so long in favor of foolish false “gods”, spirits like Baal, Molech, who were certainly not god, but evil spirits. The people of Judah gullibly followed them. Quoting Yahweh’s words in ESV Jeremiah 32:28 Therefore, thus says the LORD: Behold, I am giving this city into the hands of the Chaldeans and into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall capture it. 29 The Chaldeans who are fighting against this city shall come and set this city on fire and burn it, with the houses on whose roofs offerings have been made to Baal and drink offerings have been poured out to other gods, to provoke me to anger35 They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.”
Yahweh’s saying: You people are so out of line, you know perfectly well who I am and what I’m about and you still play with these evil beings. He says “They have turned their back and not their face.” (33) What does it mean when you “turn your back” to someone? They’re irrelevant, you can ignore them, they won’t harm you, they are there, but only when you decide to turn back to them, when it’s in your interests. Sound familiar? John Holbert writes: Jeremiah is commonly known as the “weeping prophet,” based on his wish to have a “fountain of tears” with which he might weep for the slain of his own people (9:1).  To the effect; “…how can you be so stupid? How can you get caught up in such destructiveness? Why keep turning your back on God when you know He will tolerate your impertinence for so long and then the result will be horrible? So enough is enough, time to clean house, destroy what has been contaminated by these gross, nasty, abusive “gods”. To get rid of the people who have been such a negative influence, people who have been undermining Yahweh’s relationship with His chosen people, Israel.
But there are still promises to be kept. Does Yahweh fail to keep His promises, even when we are so completely undeserving? Yes, He does. He’s promised a Messiah since the very beginning. He has devastated His people, they have been dragged to Babylon, or to live among the ruins of Jerusalem. Everything has been stripped to the bone by the Babylonians and there is nothing left for the Israelites to survive on. Nothing material and certainly nothing spiritual. As much as people today want to complain, wish for better days, we all know we have things pretty good. While Judah was getting absolutely leveled by the Babylonians, many were killed, many others were shipped off to Babylon, if that were to happen to us here, we would end up somewhere in the north part of Central America. Completely different culture, environment to us, the Jews in Judah have been completely devastated and now it’s time to bring them back. Yahweh has made it clear He is who He says He is, He has completely taken down 400 years of Israelite civilization, and seemingly left the remnant without anything whatsoever.
But He doesn’t leave them completely, He doesn’t just leave them broken, hopeless with nothing to live for. That’s a great thing. As much as the Israelites deserved to be completely dumped by God, does He? No! He gives them hope and promise. He gives us this hope and promise, in Jesus. For Israel, He tells them, you will be back here in 70 years, with a whole new attitude. You’re going to finally get a little real and realize how you have failed so miserably. Not only that, but you will have eternal hope and promise: Jeremiah 23:5-6, ESV “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’ To make sure we are all clear, He makes the same promise a few chapters later, that yes, this will happen, you have not been abandoned and left hopeless”, He tells Jeremiah: “ESV 33:14 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’
God doesn’t make promises, didn’t make them then or now to just hear Himself talk. God will make His Word and His promises happen. He did to Jeremiah 2,600 years ago. A Branch did spring from David, His Name is Jesus. Now we wait for the promise of Jesus’ return. Not in terror, wrath, vengeance, but in the final welcome, the promise of the Resurrection, eternal life that God meant it to be and we have that complete promise. Advent is about taking time in penance, remembering your sins, what you’ve done that has failed God, that has offended God, that has failed His people/His church. But it’s a time of great hope and promise, a time to remember that the afflictions of the world are so temporary. Scott Murray writes quoting Basil the Great: “He will not hold back. He, in His love will not disdain even to carry you on His own shoulders, rejoicing that He has found His sheep that was lost . The Father stands awaiting your return from your wandering. Only come back, and while you are yet afar off, He will run and fall upon your neck, and, now that you are cleansed by repentance, He will wrap you in embraces of love. He will clothe with the chief robe the one who has put off the old man with all his works. He will put a ring on hands that have washed off the blood of death, and He will put shoes on feet that have turned from the evil way to path of the Gospel of peace.” Such a great picture of the eternal life, true life in the resurrection that Jesus brings with Him when He comes for the final time.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom Christ will come again.
(Basil the Great, Letters, 46.6) Scott R Murray A Year with the Church Fathers Meditations for Each day of the Church Year p 371